Saudi Arabia Braces for a Renewed Jihadist Threat

2 MINS READJul 18, 2014 | 20:45 GMT
Saudi Arabia Braces for a Renewed Jihadist Threat
A spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry briefs on an attack by al Qaeda militants on July 5.

Days after reinforcing its borders with Iraq, Saudi Arabia has boosted security around critical facilities countrywide. This is in part a response to the deteriorating situation in Iraq and in part based on intelligence that the kingdom itself is at risk of terrorist attack. Riyadh is hardening strategic domestic infrastructure and energy sites that might be within the reach of terrorists linked to the Islamic State transnational jihadist organization. This security posturing reflects the inherent risks posed by Saudi Arabia's erstwhile strategy of using regional militant groups to target Iranian and Shiite interests.

A July 18 report from a Saudi-owned news agency revealed a plot to hit petroleum facilities, desalination plants, government buildings and other potential targets in Saudi Arabia. The report was apparently based on leaked intelligence, founded on a warning sent by a Saudi national in the Islamic State to his family in Riyadh, warning them of future bombings there. Riyadh's main concern about the Islamic State to the north is that it is an emerging second jihadist front. An unstable Yemen to the south has been a persistent threat, acting as a refuge and incubator for regionally displaced al Qaeda cells. The Islamic State warning follows the detention of around 60 al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in May and reinforces why the kingdom is particularly sensitive to such threats.

Although the leaked report could be a deliberate attempt at misinformation by the Islamic State's sophisticated information operations cell, Riyadh cannot afford to disregard it as such. Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps to insulate itself from nearby geo-strategic and terrorist threats, but with the possibility of al Qaeda terrorists penetrating from the south and Islamic State operatives infiltrating from the north, Riyadh's anxiety appears justified. Beyond co-opting existing al Qaeda franchises in Yemen, Islamic State is able to exploit its own organic network of Saudis, who fought with and funded the organization in Syria. Having access to this nexus gives Islamic State the ability to reach into Saudi Arabia's heartland, which is a cause of great concern for Riyadh.  

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